God, she must hate him. For her to do something like that to an animal, she must hate him with every bit of her. Dawn loved animals; she'd talked the year before how she wanted to volunteer at the local animal shelter. After all, plenty of pets ended up there after their owners turned up dead from inexplicable neck trauma.

Did she just walk up to the cat and bash its brains out? Or maybe lure it into a trap with a little tuna?

Or maybe she just answered an ad-"Free to good home."

God.

For a moment he thought of the cat that used to live in the house-still did, maybe, hard to see cats if they didn't want to be noticed-Miss Something? Kitty? The Fabulous Miss Kitty? Something like that. It had been Tara's cat, although maybe Dawn named it. That name seemed too earthbound for Glinda's tastes.

Spike went back to the sack and peered into it. No, Tara's pet was black; this cat had been marmalade, once.

It was ridiculous to be so relieved.

Christ, he didn't want to tell Buffy.

***

"He has a soul? That's...great," Xander forced himself to say. The words felt like sawdust in his mouth, dry and flavorless and insincere.

No, not insincere. Not completely. They were words he had to say to be close to Buffy again. Nothing was perfect, even with the people you loved most. You had to grit your teeth to keep from making a remark, or a whole stream of them, but in the long run it would be worth it. If he didn't believe that, he wouldn't be here with her now.

And she'd have to do the exact same thing. Because this couldn't be halfway, it couldn't be just him accepting her; she had some accepting to do, too. Things couldn't go on the way they had been.

He'd been able to get along with Spike sometimes, hadn't he? Playing pool, poker? Shot the bull a few times, commiserated about women being insane and completely unreasonable? That's all they had to do now. Not be best friends. Just be polite. Civil.

Of course, it was a lot more difficult being civil to someone who'd slept with your fiancée and tried to-tried to-

Stop it. Stop it now. It's not my call, it's hers.

There was an upside, right? There had to be. Spike was better than Angel, he supposed. At least he wasn't as creepy.

Naw, he was really more on the thuggish side.

Upside, upside. Well, at least Xander wouldn't be the only guy at their video nights, since Giles usually came up with a convenient excuse to miss them. And, uh...maybe the girls would be less inclined to discuss the merits of various brands of depilatories with another guy there. Sometimes Xander wondered if they forgot he was a guy, what with so many girls around. Another guy to beef up the Y chromosome factor couldn't hurt.

And Buffy. The real upside was Buffy.

"Souls are good," said Xander carefully.

Buffy nodded. "Definitely of the good," she agreed.

"Willow has a soul," he added.

Buffy flinched. Predictably. "Souls aren't a magic cure-all."

"Would you let Spike back into your life if he didn't have a soul?" Xander asked steadily.

"I did," she said softly. "When Spike came back, I didn't know he had one."

"So you just forgave him?"

Buffy nodded.

"Then why can't you forgive Willow?"

Buffy hesitated. How could she explain? It seemed so clear in her mind, but when she tried to explain her words failed her. "It-what she did-it was personal."

"And what Spike did wasn't personal?" Xander exclaimed before he thought.

Her eyes, meeting his, were stormy, and he reminded himself that that wasn't a topic for discussion.

"Fine. Angel. When Angel tried to end the world, you forgave him."

"That wasn't Angel," Buffy returned automatically.

"Then who was it? Mr. Bean?"

"That's not-Angel was different. He was Angelus. He was a different person."

"Just like Willow was a different person."

"She was Willow," insisted Buffy, getting up and moving around the living room in agitation.

"She was nuts-it had broken her mind. What, do you think they put people in Goldenbrook because they're extra-sane?"

"She knew exactly what she was doing," Buffy flashed, swinging around to face him. "She wasn't out of her mind. She knew who she was, she knew who I was. And she knew who my sister was when she threatened to reduce her to green key-ness. She just didn't care."

Xander stared at her for a moment, silent as realization dawned. "That's it," he murmured in surprise. "That's it, isn't it? I thought she didn't rate on your get-out-of-jail free card because only your boyfriends get that one, but it's Dawn, isn't it? It's because she went after Dawn."

Buffy met his eyes silently, hers glittering with tears.

"God, Buffy, if you knew-if you knew how many nights I have to get up and go into Willow's room to wake her up from bad dreams. They're all bad, all of her dreams are bad. She'll be crying and begging you to forgive her, you and Dawn. Dawn's like-Dawn's the sister she never had, the little sister, just like you're the, the other sister she never had," Xander finished lamely. "She can't stand what she tried to do to you two."

Buffy wanted to shoot back that it didn't matter, Willow had to live with it, they all had to, but she couldn't. The words stuck in her throat. She hated Willow, and blamed her bitterly, and missed her so much she could barely stand it. Thoughts of Willow entered her mind at random times, and she shied away from them, couldn't look at them, and then they returned to her when she thought she'd put Willow far from her mind. From her heart.

But as bitter as she was with Willow, Buffy missed her, sharply. Willow had been her touchstone ever since she moved to Sunnydale; she turned her back on Cordy and the social acceptance that would have come with her-the social status Buffy was used to-because she'd looked at the timid, awkward girl Willow had been and wanted to help her, to make her laugh.

God, Xander wanted it so much. She could see it in his eyes, desperate and hopeful. She couldn't keep Willow away forever; she'd had a hard enough time for the past months. Eventually she'd get there, slip in past Buffy and one day Buffy would just walk in the house and Willow would be there, talking with Dawn, in Buffy's own kitchen. Or she'd go over to see Giles and there Willow would be, rooting through his bookshelves. She hadn't been to Xander's for months because she was avoiding Willow. How long could she fight?

She wasn't the only one who cared about Willow.

"Maybe," Buffy mumbled finally. Xander bent swiftly to catch the soft word. "Maybe."

***

It took him a while to get going. First, he had to bury the cat behind the crypt, then he still had to gather his stuff up to take over to Buffy's. He was moving slowly, because he felt worse than ever. It couldn't be magic. Dawn didn't know magic. Couldn't do magic.

Of course, she damn near brought her mother back.

Fuck.

Spike didn't hurry as he walked across town. There was no reason to. He had all night to accuse Buffy's sister, a girl he'd loved for years, of trying to kill him. No reason to rush to it. Maybe he could put it off a while, pretend he didn't know. While she did god knows what next. Maybe a dog.

Maybe a baby.

Yeah, putting it off was a great plan.

***

Giles stayed out of the living room. He'd been in the kitchen, drinking a barely adequate pot of what Americans laughably called tea, when he'd heard them come in-Buffy and Spike, he'd thought.

But it was Xander with Buffy, and they'd been talking steadily the whole time. He didn't want to disturb them; he thought it was better for them to reconcile, but he was wondering just how long he could stay away from the living room. His notebook was there-he'd been engrossed in recording his observations about Spike, and he really wanted to get back to it. But Buffy and Xander were still talking, and-ah! The kitchen tablet! About time it was used for something other grocery lists of Lean Cuisine and absurdly expensive bottled water. As if water from Fiji was inherently superior to that from the Sunnydale Water Treatment Plant. Absurd.

The difference between the unsouled, demonic Spike and his souled counterpart is not as dramatic as it was with Angel and his soulless persona, Angelus. Of course, for the past three years Spike has been restrained by the chip and unable to inflict the kind of devastation Angelus reveled in, but at the same time Spike, even with a soul, does not appear as weighed down by his crimes as Angel did. Until he revealed his soul, I was unable to discern a difference between his behavior now and when I left Sunnydale last fall; now he is a little quieter and more thoughtful, perhaps, yet still retains his essential-

"Where's Dawn?"

Giles jumped; he hadn't heard Spike come in the back door. "I believe she's up in her room, studying," he said, settling back. "How was the Nosredna Laup?"

"Big and ugly and not that tough," Spike muttered, his gaze drifting up to the ceiling as if he could see through it to the girl upstairs.

"Ahh-I was wondering, since you didn't accompany Buffy home."

"Getting my stuff," Spike mumbled, moving towards the door. "Told her I'd meet her here. Give her a chance to get cleaned up."

"Well, Buffy's, uh, busy at the moment, so this might be a good time for us to talk further," Giles said hopefully-the last of it to Spike's back as he disappeared through the kitchen door into the house.

Spike was vaguely aware of Buffy greeting him as he passed the living room on his way upstairs, a paper bag with his stuff carelessly shoved in it dangling from one hand. He dropped it outside Buffy's bedroom without pausing before stopping in front of her sister's door. He hesitated before knocking; what could he say? "Dawnie, I understand that you're unhappy with me, but I'd appreciate if you stopped cursing me. Also, don't kill cats. It's not nice, and they're worth good money to the right demons"?

Tentatively Spike rapped on the door. "Come in," Dawn called. "Especially if you've got chocolate."

Spike opened the door and slipped inside. "Hey, Bit," he said softly. "Can we talk a minute?"

"Sure," Dawn agreed. "Anything going on?" she asked gingerly. She looked at him, and it was not at all as she had earlier, when she smiled at him and he thought everything was going to be okay between them. Now her look was wary.

She knew he knew. She knew.

"Why?" he asked without preamble. She looked at him blankly.

"It's no good for everyone. No good for you," he told her carefully.

No response.

He tried again. "I don't blame you," he told her. "Just stop. I'm not angry, but you can't do it any more. It doesn't make anything better, don't you see that?"

"I-I don't know what you're talking about, Spike," she said.

"Buffy's going to have to be told," he said to Dawn. "I can't keep secrets from her. You stop, we'll tell her together, and things will be right as rain. Well okay, first she'll blow her stack, but then she'll calm down, and everything will be fine."

Her sudden intake of breath would have been confirmation for him, if he'd needed it. "You can't tell Buffy," she gasped. "Don't tell her!"

"I have to, Niblet," he said gently.

"If you tell her she'll never trust me again," Dawn exclaimed in dismay.

"She'll understand," Spike insisted. "Just stop, and everything will be fine."

Dawn shook her head desperately. "I stopped already," she blurted out. "So you don't have to tell her now!"

"And what about tonight?" Spike scoffed, crossing over to her. How could she lie to him like that? He knew already, why didn't she just make things easy on both of them and admit it?

"Tonight was...I was just trying to make things better," Dawn said pleadingly. "I stopped already, days ago!"

"How could what you did tonight possibly make anything better?" Spike demanded in shock. "You have to stop, now," he insisted, grabbing her arms and shaking her, trying desperately to get through to her. She had to understand, the way she was going never ended well, for anyone.

"I have, I swear," Dawn quavered, beginning to cry.

"Then we'll deal with it, and it will be over," Spike repeated, unaware of sounds behind him as Buffy appeared in the doorway.

"Here!" Dawn wailed, pulling away from Spike, tears streaking down her face. "You can have it, you can have it all!" She stumbled to her dresser and jerked out one of the drawers, shoving clothes aside and pulling out a folded towel. She threw it across the room towards him, and the treasures hidden inside it fell to the ground. "There! That's all of it! I don't want it any more! I was giving it back, I swear I was giving it back!"

Wordlessly Spike bent to inspect the discarded objects. The bag that held the bones was there, and pack of his fags, along with a few of his favorite rings and his paperback of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas; a switchblade with a broken blade-he never could bear to discard weapons, even useless ones; a mostly-new tube of hair gel that had to be left over from spring; and other assorted worthless crap. Other than the bones, nothing very threatening.

Exactly the sort of thing a light-fingered sixteen-year-old would favor.

"Jesus," he muttered, his mind reeling. Wasn't her. Wasn't her at all.

"You left," Dawn blurted accusingly, crumpling on her bed in tears. "Why did you leave? How could you? Xander was saying things about you, I know they weren't true! Why didn't you stay? I could have helped," she sobbed. Spike looked at her in horror, and backed away from the bed.

Buffy crossed to her and sank down on the bed beside her, wrapping Dawn in her arms. "It's okay, it's okay," she whispered, ignoring the whatever the hell she'd burst in on for the moment. A flash of movement caught her eye and she looked up to see Spike slip from the room.

***

Buffy pushed the hair back from Dawn's face. She didn't realize until after she'd done it that it was one of their mother's affectionate gestures. She was so used to it that she'd seldom even noticed her mother doing it until she was gone, and no one did it to her any more.

I've taught you all I can about being a slayer, and your mother taught you what you needed to know about life. He'd been right, hadn't he?

But just because she knew what she needed didn't mean she had all she needed. Buffy needed Giles. She needed her mother, too, but she couldn't have her. Dawn couldn't have her. She was gone, and she'd never return, not like Buffy. Somewhere deep inside, Buffy was glad. She knew that her mother was warm and safe and happy. Buffy had been in that place once, and she'd be there again. Someday.

But for now she had to be there for Dawn, because their mother couldn't be.

"What was that about?" Buffy asked gently.

"He knows what I did," Dawn mumbled.

"Knows about what?"

Dawn was silent for a moment. "Knows that...I was doing stuff to him," she said finally.

"What kind of stuff were you doing?" Buffy asked carefully.

"Itooksomeofhisstuff," Dawn mumbled. Buffy looked at her in surprise. "I was giving it back!"

"I thought you stopped doing that," Buffy pointed out. Dawn bowed her head, and Buffy nudged her.

"I was upset," Dawn admitted. Buffy looked at her. "He left. He shouldn't have left," she mumbled, tearing up a little again. Buffy rubbed her back and Dawn moved closer to her, finally putting her head on Buffy's shoulder and crying without reservation.

"I know, sweetie," whispered Buffy into Dawn's hair. "I know."

***

It wasn't Bit. Wasn't her. No, she was just pulling her cute adolescent crap, gacking his stuff and imagining she was putting the big hurt on him. Why? Not ‘cause he'd tried to violate her sister, no, she was too loyal to believe that, but because he'd left, and she'd been left too many times.

Goddamn Harris. Goddamn him to hell for telling Dawn about what he'd tried to do about Buffy. Like it was any of his fucking business. No, he'd just been delighted to tell a child what Spike tried to do to her sister. Probably would have shown her pictures if he could, didn't care who got hurt as long as he could say something bad about Spike.

Yeah, it was true. He'd never lie about it, never try to get away from it. But it wasn't Harris' place to tell. Not his right to crush a little girl to make himself feel better.

They were insane. All of them, even Spike, this town made people insane. The evanescence from the Hellmouth, it curled its tendrils around people and snaked through them and they didn't even notice. That crazy-ass mayor Buffy'd told him about, and that Slayer who went off her nut. Buffy, beating the shit out of him in a back alley, and him, forcing her to the floor of her bathroom and trying to pull her robe off. The Wiccan trying to end the world because it was a more dramatic statement than turning the mirrors to face the walls, and that dumbass Watcher leaving Buffy to fend for herself when she had no one to guide her. And them, the whole lot of them, stupid enough to try to bring Buffy back, chanting and spilling fawn's blood....

Fawn's blood.

Person had to be awful cold to kill a fawn. William'd never done it, of course; he'd fainted away like a girl on the one hunting trip his father had taken him on and refused to go again. Still didn't care much for hurting animals. Not a lot of sport when people have automatic rifles with motion detectors and their prey had brains the size of one of your smaller legumes.

Spike had never been interested in the easy battles.

But he knew someone who'd done it when it would get her what she wanted. She'd told him one night at the Bronze, when he'd gone in hoping to see Buffy and instead merely found Willow alone at the bar, drowning her sorrows in the rare non-magical way. She'd been depressed. She told him magic had ruined her relationship with Tara, that she never should have touched it, but she couldn't regret bringing Buffy back, no matter what it took to get her. And then she'd told him. Luring the fawn out. Cutting it. Letting its life drip out over her hands.

Spike knew for himself that the first kill was the hardest. They all got easier after that.

She'd told him she wasn't the one doing it to him.

She'd lied.

Spike changed directions at the next intersection. Getting plastered could wait; it was time he and Red had another talk.

As he walked, Dawn's tear-stained face rose in Spike's mind. She was so hurt, so upset. And he'd been such a git, treating her like that when she needed some understanding. And instead he'd shouted. Frightened her little girl feelings, broke her when she was already so broken it was a wonder she hadn't sprung a leak.

Spike froze. That wasn't right, was it? He hadn't just shouted. He'd shaken her. Shaken her all up.

Hadn't hurt a bit





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